Wednesday, 29 April 2009

On the Truthfulness of Church Councils

It is not "ecumenicity" but the truthfulness of (ecumenical) councils that makes their decisions binding on us. Here we touch on the basic mystery of the Orthodox doctrine on the Church: The Church is the miracle of God's presence among mankind already without any formally defined "criterion" or "infallibility". It is not enough just to convene an ecumenical council to proclaim the truth (whatever the historical reality may be that is attached to the idea of the council); what matters is that among those assembled there should be present He who said: "I am the way, and the truth and the life." Without this presence the assembly, however numerous and representative it may be, is not in the truth...In the course of history, ecumenical councils have merely been the means of proclaiming the truth.

John Meyendorff
from a Russian language article in Vestnik, No. 1, (1959)
(Vestnik = 'The Messenger', journal of the Russian Orthodox Archdiocese of Paris and Western Europe, Ecumenical Patriarchate)

Comment: Meyendorff goes on to criticise what he regards as Rome's objectivising of God's presence in the church through an infallible Pope - and likewise, but less convincingly in my opinion, Protestantism's objectivising of his presence in an infallible scripture. However, I think an Evangelical Lutheran could agree with the basic thrust of his argument here - the fact that a council is deemed "ecumenical" by the fact of who is and how many are in attendance does not guarantee the truth of its proclamations. That is only vouchsafed by the presence of Christ in and with the assembly, and how else are we to know whether that is the case but by testing the council's proclamations against the canon of God's word written, to which Christ Himself has given His imprimatur?

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